Zurich's burning snowman Exploding heads

Will it be a hot summer? Every April locals take to the streets of Zurich and set a snowman on fire to find out. The tradition is called Sechseläuten - here's more.

When the first flowers begin to bloom, the temperatures rise and the days become longer, people in Zurich celebrate their traditional spring festival  Sechseläuten or "Sächsilüüte" as it is known in local dialect.

The name means "the bells at six" and dates from the 16th century.

Back then, the city bell which marked the end of the working day sounded at 17:00 in winter but at 18:00 in summer. Sächsilüüte, or Six Bells Day, was the day of the changeover. Here are the basics for those looking to participate in the festivities.


The origins of the Böögg

The word "Böögg" is related to the English word "bogeyman." In Zurich, the Böögg resembles a snowman and symbolizes the winter. Burning the Böögg serves to drive out the winter and herald spring.

In the Middle Ages, young boys in Zurich's Kratz quarter - formerly the area between the Fraumünster Cathedral and Lake Zurich  would burn a Böögg-like figure on the day of the spring equinox.

At the same time the guilds would commence their "Six Bells Day" celebrations. Back then, there were several Bööggs which met their fate in various spots around the quarter. Before being burned, they were usually tied to wagons and pulled through the streets accompanied by jeering youths.

It was not until the end of the 19th century that the two customs – Sechseläuten and the burning of the Böögg  were combined. The procession of jeering youths became what is now a children's parade held on the Sunday before Sechseläuten, while the Böögg was adopted as the main protagonist of the Sechseläuten spring festival.

Children's parade


The Böög as weather forecaster

Nowadays, it is tradition to ask the Böögg to forecast the weather for the coming summer.

During the Sechseläuten ceremony on Bellevue Square in central Zurich, the pyre with a Böögg on top is set alight at precisely 6pm. It is said that the faster the fire reaches the snowman and his head explodes - which is packed with firecrackers - the finer the summer will be.

Burning the Böög




Programme for the Sechseläuten Spring Festival in Zurich

Know where and when to enjoy 'Six Bells Day' and the burning snowman!

For more information visit Zurich Tourism's Guide to Sechseläuten!


Photos: © Zürich Tourism


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